New England clam chowder is a classic American dish enjoyed for generations. Known for its creamy broth and hearty ingredients, this soup is the ultimate comfort food for the whole family to enjoy on a cold night.
As you savor each spoonful of a warm bowl of New England clam chowder, you’ll appreciate the combination of tender clams, cooked bacon, chunky potatoes, and aromatic vegetables.
I love tasty clam chowder, and canned soup doesn’t hit the spot like a homemade version. This New England clam chowder recipe uses simple ingredients to give you that rich flavor you are hoping for. With some prep work, before you know it, you will grab that ladle and a bowl and serve it up for your family.
Soup season is here, and I just picked up some clams to make this clam chowder the other day at the store. Salty, creamy, and delicious down to the last drop. Plus, the smell of the soup cooking made everyone in the house drool instantly!
Why You’ll Love This Creamy New England Clam Chowder Recipe
- Rich and creamy: The chowder’s base is made from half and half, giving it a smooth, velvety texture that’s perfect for cozying up on chilly days or enjoying a taste of summer in coastal New England anytime.
- Savory ingredients: The soup is loaded with tender fresh clams, diced potatoes, and bacon, ensuring a satisfying and filling meal.
- Easy to make at home: New England Clam Chowder is easy to recreate in your kitchen with just a few simple ingredients.
- Versatile: You can customize your clam chowder by adding various herbs, spices, or vegetables to suit your preferences. Feel free to experiment with the recipe and make it your own for a new family favorite!
- Bacon: This adds a rich, smoky flavor to your chowder, setting the foundation for the dish.
- Yellow onion: The onion provides a touch of sweetness and depth to the overall flavor profile.
- All-purpose flour: This will help thicken your chowder to the perfect consistency.
- White potatoes: These potatoes contribute a hearty, creamy texture to the chowder.
- Baby clams: The show’s star, baby clams, provides that authentic seafood taste that makes New England clam chowder so beloved. I use a can of baby clams that I’ve drained. Reserve the clam juice to use in the recipe.
- Salt: This helps enhance the flavors of all the other ingredients in the chowder.
- Pepper: Adding a subtle kick, the pepper balances the richness of the other ingredients.
- Half & half cream: This cream is crucial for achieving the creamy texture that defines a good clam chowder.
How to Make the Best Clam Chowder
- Step One: In a large pot, cook bacon and onion over medium heat, stirring occasionally until bacon is cooked and onion is tender.
- Step Two: Add flour and stir constantly for 1 minute.
- Step Three: Drain clams, reserving liquid; add enough water to clam liquid to measure two cups.
- Step Four: Stir clams, clam liquid, potatoes, salt, and pepper into bacon and onions. Heat to boiling and then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potato is tender.
- Step Five: Stir in cream. Heat, stirring occasionally, just until hot.
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What to Serve with New England Clam Chowder
- Crusty bread or oyster crackers: These crunchy additions contrast the soup’s creaminess and can be used for dipping or crumbling on top.
- Green salad: A light, refreshing salad with mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumber, and a simple vinaigrette will complement the chowder’s flavors while providing fresh, crisp textures.
- Grilled or steamed vegetables: To add variety to your meal, serve the chowder alongside a plate of lightly seasoned, grilled, or steamed veggies like asparagus, green beans, or zucchini.
- Corn on the cob: Whether boiled, grilled, or oven-roasted, corn on the cob is a fun and flavorful side that pairs well with clam chowder.
Variations and Substitutions
- Potatoes: Use russet potatoes, red potatoes, or Yukon gold potatoes instead of white potatoes.
- Change the broth: I use the juice from the clams plus water in this recipe. You could instead use chicken broth or clam stock.
- Herbs: Add extra herbs like fresh thyme, a bay leaf, or rosemary. You could also garnish with fresh parsley or fresh chives.
- Milk alternatives: If you’re lactose intolerant or prefer non-dairy options, swap the half-and-half with coconut milk, almond milk, or any other plant-based milk you choose. Remember that this might slightly alter the taste and texture of your chowder.
- Clams: I use canned clams because they are easy to find where I live. You could also use fresh clams or frozen clams if you prefer. Make sure to rinse them thoroughly to remove any extra salt or grit.
- Bacon: Experiment with different varieties of bacon. Give thick cut bacon or center cut bacon a try. For a vegetarian or lower-fat version, you can omit the bacon altogether or replace it with turkey bacon or a meatless substitute that provides a similar smoky flavor.
Some delicious variations of New England clam chowder:
- Corn Chowder: Add some fresh or frozen corn kernels to the mix for an extra touch of natural sweetness and texture.
- Seafood Chowder: Enhance your clam chowder by including other seafood like shrimp, scallops, or fish, creating a more diverse and flavorful dish.
- Loaded Clam Chowder: Top your prepared chowder with crispy bacon crumbles, diced green onions, a sprinkle of grated cheese, or even sour cream for a more indulgent experience.
- Spicy Clam Chowder: Add a kick to your soup with a pinch of cayenne pepper or a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce to suit your desired heat level.
- Refrigerating: If you have leftover clam chowder, transfer it to an airtight container and promptly refrigerate it. Your chowder should stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- Freezing: While freezing clam chowder is possible, be aware that the texture may change slightly upon thawing due to the cream content. To freeze, let the chowder cool down to room temperature, then transfer it to an airtight, freezer-safe container or heavy-duty freezer bag. Label and date the container and store it in the freezer for 2-3 months for best quality.
- Reheating: When you’re ready to enjoy your clam chowder again, reheat it on the stovetop. Place the chowder in a saucepan and heat it over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. If the chowder is too thick, add a milk or cream splash to thin it out. Continue heating until it’s warmed through and reaches a safe internal temperature of 165°F. Avoid boiling the chowder, as this can cause separation.
Can I Make Ahead?
Of course, you can make New England clam chowder ahead of time! Many people find that the chowder flavors only get better after sitting for a while.
Prepare your clam chowder as you usually would. Once the chowder is fully cooked, please remove it from the heat and allow it to cool. Make sure to use a clean and heat-resistant container for this step.
Once your chowder has cooled down, transfer it to an airtight container. Seal the container properly to keep the chowder fresh and preserve its flavors. Then, place the container in your refrigerator. It’s best to store your chowder for no more than 2-3 days.
When you’re ready to serve your make-ahead clam chowder, transfer it to a pot and heat it over medium-low heat. Remember to stir the chowder frequently while it’s reheating to ensure even heating and prevent it from sticking to the bottom of your pot. Keep an eye on the chowder and adjust the heat as needed to avoid overcooking the clams.
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Flavor with bacon: Adding bacon to your chowder provides a smoky taste that pairs well with the clams. Cook until crispy, and use the rendered fat to sauté your aromatics.
- Par-cook potatoes: To ensure they are perfectly cooked, par-boil or steam them separately before adding them to your chowder. This will ensure they retain their shape and don’t become overly mushy. If not, chop them small so they’ll cook completely.
- Add the cream at the end: You don’t want it to curdle, so it’s added at the end of the cooking time.
How to Thicken Clam Chowder
- Crackers: One of the easiest ways to thicken your watery chowder is to add oyster crackers. Crush them and stir them directly into your clam chowder while cooking. The crushed crackers absorb the liquid, making your chowder more consistent.
- Starch and Cream: Consider adding starch if your chowder still lacks the desired thickness. Simply mix equal parts of flour or cornstarch with water to create a slurry. Gradually add the slurry to your chowder, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Add heavy cream to your chowder after incorporating the slurry to maintain the classic creaminess.
- Reduce and Simmer: One more technique for thickening your clam chowder involves reducing the liquid. Keep the chowder at a low simmer, uncovered, and allow the excess liquid to evaporate. Make sure to stir occasionally to prevent the soup from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Be patient, as this process might take some time, depending on the initial consistency of your clam chowder. However, this method helps concentrate the flavors and create a thicker soup.
What is Clam Chowder?
Clam chowder is a delicious, hearty soup that originates in New England. It is typically made with clams, potatoes, onions, and a creamy base often thickened with flour. The dish has a long history is even mentioned in early American literature.
The classic New England clam chowder is known for its rich, creamy taste and smooth texture. It starts with a base of diced bacon or salt pork, followed by sautéed onions, potatoes, and clams, then simmered in a mixture of clam broth and half-and-half or cream. Seasonings may include thyme, white pepper, and occasionally a bit of celery. The result is a soul-warming, satisfying dish perfect for a cold winter day or a comforting meal anytime.
History of New England Clam Chowder
New England clam chowder has its roots in the cuisine of early settlers in the area. This delicious dish was believed to be introduced to the region by French, Nova Scotian, or British settlers. By the 1700s, clam chowder had become a common dish in New England. One of the earliest examples of its popularity is its presence on the menu at Ye Olde Union Oyster House, the oldest continuously operating restaurant in America since 1836. The dish even found its way into the famous American novel Moby Dick.
New England clam chowder, sometimes called “Boston Clam Chowder,” is characterized by its milk or cream base, giving the soup a thick and hearty consistency. The classic ingredients include clams, potatoes, salt pork, onions, and butter. It differs quite from the thinner chowders of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Over time, New England clam chowder has become an iconic dish in American cuisine. Its popularity has spread far beyond the shores of New England, and today, you can find it being served in restaurants nationwide.
The clam chowder’s fame is partly because it is considered a patriotic dish. It has been described as the “Yankee Doodle in a kettle” and is often associated with the Battle of Bunker Hill, fought during the American Revolutionary War.
Apart from its historical significance, New England clam chowder also represents the rich seafood culture of the region. With its blend of fresh ingredients and familiar flavors, the dish remains a favorite among locals and tourists.
Variations Throughout the United States
Manhattan Clam Chowder
Manhattan Clam Chowder, as the name suggests, originates from New York. In contrast to the creamy New England Clam Chowder you might be familiar with, this variation has a tomato-based broth, which gives it a red color. Adding tomatoes adds a tangy taste that some people prefer over the more traditional creamy chowder.
Besides tomatoes, Manhattan Clam Chowder is typically made with ingredients such as onions, carrots, celery, potatoes, and, of course, clams. To give it an even more distinct identity, you might find that this version is flavored with herbs like thyme and parsley, adding an aromatic depth to the dish.
Rhode Island Clam Chowder
Rhode Island Clam Chowder stands out even more than other regional varieties due to its clear broth. This chowder omits both cream and tomatoes, which, in turn, highlights the natural flavors of the clams and the other ingredients. The simplicity of the clear broth makes for a lighter, yet still flavorful, chowder.
Common components of Rhode Island Clam Chowder include clams, potatoes, onions, and sometimes celery. To further enhance its unique taste, this chowder is often seasoned with herbs and spices like bay leaves, black pepper, and even a little bit of bacon for a savory touch.
When making a delicious New England clam chowder, the type of clams you choose can make a significant difference in the final result. While several options are available, a few clam varieties are particularly well-suited for this creamy, comforting dish.
One of the most popular choices for clam chowder is the quahog. These clams are native to the northeastern United States and provide a classic, briny flavor to your chowder. Quahogs have a thick, chewy texture, which adds a satisfying bite to the soup. When shopping for quahogs, look for medium-sized, hard-shell clams.
Cherrystone clams are another great option for chowder. They are slightly smaller than quahogs but offer a similarly sweet and briny flavor. Cherrystones can be more tender than quahogs, making them a good choice if you prefer a less chewy texture in your chowder.
Canned chopped clams can be a convenient alternative if you cannot find fresh quahogs or cherrystones. Many New England clam chowder recipes use canned clams, which can still deliver a delicious, flavorful chowder. Pay attention to the ingredients in the canned clams, as some brands include added salt or preservatives.
Finally, if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, try using frozen clam meat. While it may not have the same fresh-off-the-boat flavor, frozen clam meat is an affordable and versatile choice. Just be sure to thaw the clams properly before cooking to ensure the best texture.
You can use fresh clams in your New England clam chowder recipe to give it an authentic and delicious flavor. To prepare fresh clams for your chowder, soak them in cold water for about an hour to remove sand or grit. After soaking, scrub the shells with a brush to clean them thoroughly.
Once the clams are clean, cook them in a pot with water or wine, covering them with a lid. Steam the clams for 5 to 10 minutes or until the shells open. Discard any clams that don’t open since they are likely not fresh.
Remove the cooked clams from the shells and roughly chop them before adding to your chowder. Be sure to strain and save the clam cooking liquid, as it will boost the clam flavor in your soup.
If fresh clams are hard to find or you’re short on time, you can still make a tasty chowder using canned clams, which are more readily available in grocery stores. When using canned clams, drain them well and reserve the clam juice to add to your recipe. While canned clams can’t quite replicate the taste of fresh clams, they still make a delicious and satisfying chowder.
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New England Clam Chowder
- 1 cup bacon chopped
- 1 cup yellow onion chopped
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups white potatoes unpeeled and chopped
- 2 cans baby clams 5oz/142g cans, drained, juice reserved
- ¼ tsp salt
- pinch pepper
- 2 cups half & half cream
- In a large pot, cook bacon and onion over medium heat, stirring occasionally until bacon is cooked and onion is tender.
- Add flour and stir constantly for 1 minute.
- Drain clams, reserving liquid, Add enough water to clam liquid to measure two cups.
- Stir clams, clam liquid, potatoes, salt and pepper into bacon and onions. Heat to boiling and then reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes or until potato is tender.
- Stir in cream. Heat, stirring occasionally, just until hot.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.